Man pleads not guilty to Obama threat

October 22, 2009 1:10:45 PM PDT
An airport security guard who was overheard saying he'd "cut a hole in a fence to be able to shoot" Barack Obama pleaded not guilty Thursday to making terroristic threats against the president. John Brek appeared via video feed from the Essex County Jail, where he has been held since his arrest Tuesday night. Clad in an orange prison jumpsuit, the 55-year-old Brek didn't speak during the hearing but had his plea entered by his attorney, Moses Rambarran.

Municipal Judge Amilkar Velez-Lopez rejected the state's request to raise Brek's bail to $500,000, and instead raised it from $100,000 to $200,000.

Brek also pleaded not guilty to possession of hollow point bullets, which is prohibited in New Jersey, and to receiving stolen property for allegedly having a stolen gun among the more than 40 firearms recovered from his residence Tuesday. The bail on those charges remained at $20,000.

"We really have to take these matters seriously," Velez-Lopez said. "He had a very real possibility of carrying out those threats. He would have been in close proximity to the president."

Rambarran said his client "knows he has some serious challenges against him and knows he must go through legal channels to get himself vindicated."

He said Brek's arrest raises constitutional issues.

"In the United States of America, we are allowed to make offensive, distasteful, repugnant statements," he said. "These are not prosecutable as a crime."

An airline worker standing at a coffee cart at Newark Liberty International Airport on Tuesday afternoon heard Brek saying he would "cut a hole in a fence to be able to shoot" Obama, according to the arrest warrant.

Obama arrived in Newark late Wednesday afternoon to appear at a campaign rally for Gov. Jon S. Corzine.

Brek is employed by a private security firm.

Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow said no weapons were found in the area where he worked. She did not comment on whether investigators found the hole in the fence that Brek referenced, but said Brek's comments were overheard "in the vicinity" of an area where the presidential entourage was to pass through the next day.

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